NFL shows what it thinks of the fans Selling the right to buy tickets is an outrage

November 05, 1995|By John Steadman

ASKING YOU, THE public, to pay for a playpen to benefit the wealthy millionaire owners of professional football teams is more than the height of arrogance. It's an intrusion on decency that obliterates any vestige of respect that might remain between sports management and the ticket-buying patron.

P. T. Barnum believed a sucker is born every minute and the National Football League is taking his "carny" creed to new heights. The NFL's latest caper raises millions to build new stadiums and ensures that club owners will profit at the fans' expense.

If Jesse James were alive, he'd be sorry he hadn't thought of it first. Such a ploy is sheer larceny, a broad-daylight mugging that ought to be addressed by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to protect the league's vanishing credibility.

Here's how it works: A scheme known as the Personal Seat License, was devised to separate the fan from more of his money. For the right to purchase a ticket, you must hand over a pre-determined sum that makes it possible for you then to buy a seat in the stadium that your "donation" helped create.

Personal seat licenses would probably be part of any deal that would bring a team to Baltimore. The Carolina Panthers' media guidedescribes its plan as a "remarkable seat licensing program" and quotes franchise founder, Jerry Richardson, as saying, "This is going to be the fans' team."

Yes, but will the fans who funded the stadium and paid through their wallets share in company profits? The same Panthers publication says the tribute money "originally ranged from $700 to $5,400, depending on location" of the seats ordered.

In St. Louis a similar procedure has been followed, ranging in price from $250 for a lower-priced ticket to $2,500 for being in loge No. 1. The business organizations of St. Louis bought so many prime tickets that some first-class applicants were bumped down to the next available category. This resulted in numerous applicants for the $250 seats' being lost in the grand fiscal shuffle.

The money from the 46,000 PSLs raised close to $74 million. This before a ticket was even put on sale. The PSL, according to FANS Inc., which agreed to engage in the despicable pressure play, was to cover the cost of moving the team from Los Angeles, where it had played for 49 years, to St. Louis and its newly designed domed stadium.

Los Angeles lost the Raiders to Oakland, their original home, which carried out a similar program, with the fans being asked to pay for the right to get their own team back. Another grand sporting gesture.

The migration of the Rams from Los Angeles to St. Louis, unlike the Carolina expansion effort, isn't mentioned in the Rams' media brochure. Either Rams' management was embarrassed by the tactic used to lure them or else it didn't think the raising of $74 million was significant enough to be even mentioned. Maybe it wants to act as if the con job is a mirage.

After all, how can the NFL be looked upon as anything other than a business? It's also taking advantage of the fan to line its own pockets with millions in windfall income it isn't entitled to have. The game that's being played is to find new ways to extort money from the public.

Imagine the Baltimore Orioles attempting such a ploy. Or your neighborhood theater asking for tribute money before agreeing to sell a ticket. Suppose an automobile dealer tried to put over such a deal before allowing you to buy a car. The Better Business Bureau would react in the blink of an eye.

How it all started

To understand the genesis of this extraordinary business arrangement, start with 1971, when the Dallas Cowboys, innovative in so many ways under the direction of then-general manager Tex Schramm, opened what is known as Texas Stadium.

The financing came via a "bond-option plan." Season ticket subscribers were dunned for similar up-front money to build the facility, but with one important consideration. The money was later returned to the ticket holder, plus interest.

This way, the fans get equitable return on their money. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now trying a similar effort, being advertised as the Charter Seat Deposit Plan. Owner Malcolm Glazer has agreed to pay for half the $168 million needed to build a new stadium, which is a generous offer that sets him apart.

Each Tampa Bay ticket buyer is being asked to put up from $190 to $480, in addition to paying for a seat. However, 5 percent of the fee will be returned every season for a period of 10 years, until the loan is paid off. Again, there's no reason to register a serious complaint over this type of a structure, considering what St. Louis, Charlotte and Oakland are doing.

Violating fans' loyalty

That's a strong-arm tactic devoid of class and ethics. What the NFL should never forget is that the spectators, not the owners or the players, are responsible for the popularity the game enjoys. Now their loyalty is being violated. Fans deserve gratitude instead of having wealthy men club them over the head and then turn their pockets inside out.

John Steadman is a sports columnist for The Sun.

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